Roman Archaeology Conference 2020/22 (Split, Croatia, 6-8 April 2022) – initially planned on 16-18 April 2020, then in April 2021
1. Can you tell us about PRAE-HAEMUS, as well as HAEMUS, and tell us why both projects are a crucial challenge of our times?
D.M. Thank you for your invitation! For its implementation phase, the project is called PRAE-HAEMUS, and it is simultaneously funded by the I-SITE ULNE Foundation (call for projects “Réseaux internationaux 2021”) and by the University of Lille (call for projects “Internationalisation 2021”). This pre-project aims to lay the groundwork for the HAEMUS International Research Network (https://haemus-network.univ-lille.fr), which will be a very large network of archaeologists and historians from all around the world, working on the 13 countries of South-Eastern Europe which were part of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. For now, the project is supported by a consortium of 13 high-ranking European institutions. Ultimately, the entire Balkan peninsula will fully participate in the administration and life of the network, as a scientific board including its top-level academic institutions is in the process of being set up and it will be the real decision-making body. In any case, we don’t want at all to make this experience an unbalanced relationship between the different partners.
Most of the Balkans are now part of the European Union and the few that are not being all candidates. For this reason, all the representatives of the supporting institutions of the network, which form its core group, believe that this is the perfect time to create an international research network for the Late Antique Balkans, in order to promote sharing of data, people, experiences and specialities among all these countries, and to produce cross-referring “eastern-western” research.
The enthusiasm around HAEMUS – to date, 28 international archaeological missions and more than 150 individual researchers have indicated their interest in participating – is indeed the proof that the scientific community is ready to participate in such a network. This community will participate, in its own way, in the “construction” of Europe and its consolidation by facilitating even more exchanges, not only between scholars and students from South-Eastern Europe, but also between them and researchers from all over the world. When Christophe J. Goddard (CNRS, AOrOc-8546, Paris), who is mainly working in Kosovo, and I started working on this idea, as well as gathering people around it, we were relying on the fact that unfortunately the current archaeological and historical research in the region too often remained confined to the borders of contemporary nation states, a bit like the relations that many of the Balkan states have with each other.
C.G. Thank you also for the invitation! I completely agree with Dominic, especially about the fact that scholars from the Balkans need to collaborate even more among themselves, as well as with their foreign colleagues. I was fortunate enough to do my doctoral studies in the UK, which opened up a lot of research horizons for me. At the same time, I had the advantage, for the dissertation topic that I had chosen, of being able to cope in all the languages necessary for the success of my project (Romanian and Hungarian, as well as Serbian and Bulgarian). The fact that the inhabitants of the Balkans are in continuous contact with a very large number of languages in a limited space is indeed a real richness and this is also what I liked about the network project, namely the international highlight of the cultural heritage of South-Eastern Europe, as well as the focus on local realities as a fundamental approach to understanding the past. For sure, you cannot work on the heritage of a Balkan country, even its Roman heritage, without having some knowledge of its language, as you will at one time or another need to consult the bibliography produced locally. This is really a peculiarity of Central and Eastern Europe: we have a very important historiographical tradition in our respective languages.
D.M. If Cristian allows me, I would even add that it is almost a shame that, in Western Europe or North America, we are not, collectively, fully aware of the existence of this important academic literature, as much among archaeologists as historians. Even though the Berlin Wall fell 32 years ago, we can say that in 2021 we are still living with the legacy of the Iron Curtain. For this reason, some colleagues still only see the Roman Empire through its Western part, in particular the Roman province(s) corresponding to the national territory of their own country (Gaul for France, etc.) or that of its former colony. Many are not aware at all of the importance of the Balkans for the Later Roman Empire. Thus, the political situation in the 1900s, especially after the Second World War, but not only, made most of the Balkans a less known research area than other parts of the Roman Empire, in the so-called Western world. This is why it is even more important to read the research results obtained by local researchers.
In the current favourable political context, the supporters of this project are thus defending the necessity of fully sharing and exchanging about the Late Antique Balkans through the existence of an international research network. One of its hopes is to put the Balkans back at the centre of the history of the Later Roman Empire, which is its true place. However, we also want to take this opportunity to go beyond the conventions. For this reason, we have chosen the 8th century as the end date of Antiquity, which is not at all conventional for the region, and we wish to involve in our work specialists from the neighbouring countries of the Balkan Peninsula, in order not to study it in a vacuum and to understand its relations with the rest of the Roman world.
2. What is your experience in the field of archaeology and history of the Late Antique Balkans both at the University of Lille and at Babeș-Bolyai University?
D.M. In France, the University of Lille is one of the few universities that have a long tradition of archaeological work in the Balkans, and in various locations. For a long time now, it has been involved in some of the “traditional” parts of the Balkans involving French teams in Greek and Roman archaeology in Northern Greece (including Thasos) and Albania. Furthermore, Lille was present at the very beginning of the most famous French-Yugoslavian collaboration, more precisely from 1973 to 1975, on the Late Antique site of Sirmium, which is now in Serbia. To this, we can add that it was also involved for decades in Romania, but for prehistory, while being now part of projects in the same field in Hungary. For the University of Lille, the HAEMUS network thus represents a way to continue the work between the past, the present and the future.
When I arrived in Lille in 2014, I proposed my projects in Bulgaria to my research centre, and I was very impressed with how its authorities showed an immediate interest and supported them financially and institutionally. Thanks to this positive experience, I developed an ambitious research programme and created my own network around my research topic, which is helping me now to create and launch the HAEMUS network.
C.G. Having been a student and working now in Romania, my own experience is, of course, a little different from Dominic’s. To sum up, Babeș-Bolyai University is one of the most involved Romanian universities in the field of archaeology in Romania. However, like most universities from the Balkan area, we don’t have a great tradition of working on archaeology outside the national territory. So, we have a lot to bring to the network, as we are one of the major research institutions in archaeology and ancient history north of the Balkans, but also have a lot to gain from this collaboration, in the matter of sharing with the research institutions from other Balkan countries and beyond. The keyword at the centre of the network is really “sharing” – “sharing” in order to teach and to exchange, but to learn from others.
3. What is the added value of doing transnational research cooperation on this project?
D.M. Cristian has already given a part of the answer to this question. Therefore, the power of this network is that it will invite a lot of people who have never exchanged or shared before. In this spirit, no distinction is made between researchers and students working outside Europe and those working on our continent. The idea is to bring together the skills, to offer the best possible job and results. Just to give an example, North American or Australian archaeologists and historians working on the Late Roman world have developed, over time, expertise and methodologies stimulated by their remoteness from the European continent and this can lead to very stimulating and productive dynamics when they are put in relation to more “European” approaches, if I may use this expression. This network therefore also aims to intersect approaches, by giving to everyone the opportunity to exchange and discuss about a common topic.
C.G. Sometimes, in Europe, we indeed have to remind people that the current political borders or national cultures are not necessarily relevant for the study of the Roman world. It spanned over three continents, and, because of its very long-term impact, its history belongs to all of humanity. The HAEMUS network will thus allow researchers to transcend political and national boundaries, in order to enrich exchanges between countries and cultures around a research topic, while highlighting its importance. The main objective is to help people work together in Europe and beyond. So the main added value is to have different people working together, in order to provoke an “inside-outside” exchange – “inside-outside” the Balkans, “inside-outside” Europe.
D.M. And this, not only in science, but also in human terms! Just to give a quick example, when you do archaeological excavations in a foreign country, if you want it to be a real success, you should not only be there to do your task, but also to meet people in their cultural environment. You have to be interested in their language, food, music, ideas, etc. Only in this way can you make your experience completely satisfactory! How can we make human and social sciences without a human and social dimension? This is one of the reasons why this network is important, and let’s hope that it will also help scholars and students in this way.
C.G. As we are talking of added values of the network, I will share my experience to illustrate another one: as a student, I was first thinking of becoming a mediaeval historian, but one of the best Romanian professors in archaeology showed me the way to it. How? Not only by sharing his passion in courses, but also by involving me very soon in fieldwork. Consequently, I decided to devote the rest of my studies to this discipline. In the same way, I was encouraged by my Romanian mentors to specialise in numismatics, because there was then a lack of specialists in this field at Babeș-Bolyai, and to go to study in the UK, in order to get international experience. Why am I telling you this? Because I think that academic contact with world famous specialists in their respective fields is essential for students, and I see our network also as a means of bringing t0gether people who might not have come into contact otherwise. HAEMUS can strongly participate in the training and professional orientation of students, as well as to offer them excellent opportunities abroad. It is really an excellent opportunity to create not only links, but also vocations.
For the next generations of scholars from the Balkans, the creation of such connections around the world will be more than a benefit, not only by learning new techniques, but also by opening them up even more to others. Thus, I hope, it will help to make them even more proud of their cultural heritage and to convince them to defend it even more. The Roman heritage is particularly important in the Balkans. Unfortunately, there are still too many people in the peninsula, even some fully integrated in the cultural institutions, who are illegally selling archaeological artefacts or destroying sites, or by completely catastrophic and unproductive reconstitutions, supposedly for tourism, or by simple destruction, most often because of greed for land. As a government expert on the subject, I thus developed a new research area at Babeș-Bolyai University, relying, in part, on my experience abroad: the protection of cultural heritage.
5. What are the next steps?
D.M. For the upcoming activities, we can say, at this stage, that next June the network will officially launch its cycle of periodic online lectures given by special guests, which will be preceded by a full public presentation of the network. Moreover, the first workshop is scheduled next November. The exact dates and programmes will be announced in the coming weeks.
The workshop, like all the others which will be organised in the future under the aegis of HAEMUS, will become a reference book which will be published by Brepols, in the RomA series, through a special partnership. Alongside the 13 sponsoring institutions, the network is maintaining privileged links not only with this publishing house, but also with the I-SITE ULNE Foundation, the Hauts-de-France region and, of course, the InclusU: The European University for Inclusiveness project, in which Babeș-Bolyai participates.
Aside from these activities, an application to a major funding programme is currently under preparation.